Keith Jones

Dick Jerardi is an award winning sports writer as well as a radio/television host and commentator, and is arguably best known for covering the sport of Horse Racing.

Though his work as a journalist at The Philadelphia Daily News, Dick has covered every Triple Crown race since 1987 (he is a five-time winner of theRed Smith Award for Kentucky Derby coverage). Dick Jerardi famously chronicled the remarkable Smarty Jones during the Triple Crown chase of 2004 s the Thoroughbred won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes for trainer John Servis.

Since 2011 Jerardi has been an on-air analyst for the live television broadcasts of The Pennsylvania Derby from Parx Racing, most recently for NBC Spots Philadelphia.

Many fans know of Dick Jerardi’s work from the long running Let’s Go Racing TV program where he works alongside fellow Parx Hall of Fame members Keith Jones and producer Bruce Casella.

Dick also continues to provide color commentary for the live broadcasts of Penn State basketball.


By Dick Jerardi

It was the early evening of Nov. 6, 1998. A few of us were walking the entirety of the Churchill Downs Turf Course, led by Michael Dicksinson and his constant companion/assistant Joan Wakefield. They were looking for the best and worst parts of the course, leaving absolutely nothing to chance.

And why would they? Two years before, they were in Toronto to see Da Hoss win the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Woodbine. This was the eve of the 1998 BC Mile. And Da Hoss, improbably, was back for another go.

Dickinson was Da Hoss’s trainer of record, but this was a partnership in every sense of the word. Along with exercise rider John Ferriday and groom Miguel Piedra, Dickinson and Wakfield were just hours away from seeing if their miracle horse, now 6–years-old, could come all the way back to his very best and beat the best grass milers in the world.

Da Hoss did not race from Oct. 26, 1996 until Oct. 11, 1998 when he won an allowance race at Colonial Downs by three-quarters of a length. If you just saw the past performances, you would figure no way the horse was anywhere near his best. I remember watching it in the press box at what was then known as Philadelphia Park. And smiling in the final yards. Jockey Carlos Marquez was barely asking Da Hoss to run. This was a prep race in every sense of the word.

After stopping and starting and stopping and starting with Da Hoss because of an arthritic condition, Dickinson and his team had timed it all up perfectly. Da Hoss, Dickinson told anybody who would listen, was going to run the very best race of his life. And he was going to win.

I believed. And bet accordingly.

When I heard that Da Hoss, who lived out his life at the Kentucky Horse Park, had died on Jan. 2 a day after his 30th birthday, all the memories from that week, that night on the grass course and the day of that Breeders’ Cup came flooding  back.

“He had a good ride,’’ Dickinson said. “They looked after him well at the Horse Park. When Joan used to take Miguel and John Boy (Ferriday) to see him, it was very highly charged. They’d all cry.’’

Which was not unlike the aftermath of race 7 at Churchill on Nov. 7, 1998. Da Hoss, ridden by a young John Velazquez and sent off at 11-1, was always in good position. When Da Hoss started to pass horses on the far turn and move toward the lead, it all became very real.

At the eighth pole, Da Hoss was in front. At the sixteenth pole, he was second, passed by Hawksley Hill. Once horses take the lead in the stretch and are passed, they don’t come back to win much. So what were the odds on a horse that had raced just once in two years coming again to win the BC Mile?

Incalculable, unless, of course, the horse was Da Hoss. The horse simply wanted to win so he came back on Hawksley Hill and put his nose and then his head in front just as he hit the wire, the miracle comeback completed.

“He was our horse of a lifetime,’’ Dickinson said.

That 1998 Breeders’ Cup was Da Hoss’s final race. It was a perfect ending for a horse that ran at Turf Paradise, Aqueduct, Garden State Park, Sportsman’s Park, Hollywood Park, Del Mar, the Meadowlands, Belmont Park, Saratoga, Penn National, Woodbine, Colonial Downs and, finally, fittingly, at Churchill Downs. There were 20 starts, 12 wins, 5 seconds and nearly $2 million in earnings over 4 years of racing. On grass, Da Hoss started 11 times, with 8 wins, 1 seconds and two thirds.

Dickinson trained at Fair Hill (Md.) Training Center when he first came to the United States from his native England. By 1998, his operation had moved to Tapeta Farm in North East, Md. and Da Hoss was one of the first horses to train on the revolutionary Tapeta surface. There was never a better advertisement for a surface that is now used the world over and was recently installed at Gulfstream Park.

It took the entire team and the surroundings to get Da Hoss ready again. But, in the end, it was about the horse,

“The single most important thing in winning a race is to have the  best horse,’’ Dickinson said that unforgettable November day.

And Da Hoss was simply the best horse they ever had.


By Dick Jerardi

When the decision was made to go exclusively with a Monday,  Tuesday, Wednesday schedule at Parx in 2021, the hope was that Wednesdays, without so much competition, would be much more successful than Saturdays with all the competition.

Hope became reality. The average daily simulcast handle on Parx races in 2021 was $2,644 million. In 2020, it was $2,043 million. In 2019, it was $1,546 million.

“So we are up this year over 2019 by 71 percent,’’ said Parx Chief Operating Officer Joe Wilson. “Without a doubt, the Wednesday far out does the Saturday.’’

In 2019, the track ran a mix of three-day weeks and four-day weeks.

“Probably the biggest factor and I think it’s equal, Wednesday instead of Saturday, also running three days as opposed to four days, that’s just as big,’’ Wilson said. “The four days, we can’t handle it anymore. We just can’t do it.’’

The track’s fiscal year ended Dec. 26 so the numbers Wilson cited don’t even count Dec. 27, 28 and 29 when the track handled nearly $14 million.

“The other thing with this three-day-a-week schedule, I run more races per day,’’ Wilson said. “So back in 2019, we were running four days a week, there were some days I could only card eight races.’’

The way the game is delivered to players has changed dramatically in the last decade. Back in 2005, Parx had six OTB’s and a national phonebet system. So the on-track handle was the thing.

Then, casinos came to Pennsylvania and account wagering systems became the thing for horse players. Parx is down to one OTB (South Philly). Wilson said the new model will be on display soon at a new Chickie’s and Pete’s in Malvern where Parx will have a small space for horse and sports betting.

“Back then, you might have had 10 percent of your handle was

done through account wagering,’’ Wilson said. “Now, it’s probably north of 75 percent done through account wagering.’’

The on-track handle model is now a relic from another era as more than 90 percent of the national handle is bet somewhere other than at race tracks. So the play in the 2020s is to make your betting product as appealing as possible to generate handle on your live races wherever those bets come from.

“Everybody is trying to do this marketing thing, that marketing thing, got to bring people to the track, you’ve got to generate on-track handle,’’ Wilson said. “It ain’t going to happen. Unfortunately, that’s over. So you really want to key on some big days.’’

To that end, the track is going to schedule six Saturdays instead of Wednesdays in 2020. Parx will run live on the Saturdays of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes, Father’s Day Weekend, July 4th Weekend and Pennsylvania Derby.

Big days are their own entities and attractions as 2021 Pa. Derby Day clearly demonstrated. The best racing card in the history of the race track generated a record $13.2 million handle.

“We’ll try to make each one of those days as big of an on-track event as we can to get people out,’’ Wilson said. “There are people that miss that racing on Saturday, that racing on a weekend.’’

Longtime Parx fans really enjoy the picnic area so that will get more play in 2022 with the six Saturdays.

With those final three days of 2021 to get the track flying out of the 2022 fiscal starting gate, it will be interesting to follow the handle numbers this year.

The Philly Big 5 with the Jackpot carryover began May 10, 2021. It was hit with a single ticket twice  ($326,000 on June 14 and $245,000 on Nov. 2). Three times, including on Dec. 29, the entire pool was paid out as part of mandatory distribution.

The carryover heading into last Wednesday was nearly $400,000. Wilson expected some large wagering, but admitted he was not prepared for what happened.

“Generally, things don’t surprise me anymore,’’ Wilson said. “That surprised me. There was $400,000 in that jackpot and they bet $2 million to get that out. If I had to guess, I would have said it would be $1 million, maybe a little bit more than a million. But not $2 million.’’

When he was asked how many times Parx had a $2 million pool ($1.997 million to be exact) for one bet, Wilson knew that instantly: it was a first.

“I don’t even have to look that up,’’ Wilson said.

Nor does he have to look up the quality of the daily product at Parx. It’s just better and that attracts bettors.

Now, with 10 races per day, it’s 30 races per week. With four-day weeks and sometimes eight races daily, that was 32 races per week.

“Three tens works out a whole lot better than four eights,’’ Wilson said.

The proof is right there in the numbers.


Dick Jerardi

When those five new stakes, worth $100,000 each, were announced for the Tuesday and Wednesday after Christmas at Parx, the anticipation from owners and trainers was an older version of kids waiting on Christmas presents. The difference was that, yes, it was new money, but it would have to be earned.

And there were the bettors who responded by generating a handle of $4.3 million Tuesday, followed Wednesday, with the aid of a $389,200 carryover and mandatory payout in the Big 5, a handle of $6 million, $2 million of which was bet into the Big 5. That payout was $7,875.40 for each winning ticket.

All five stakes winners earned the cash by beating large, competitive fields. The three Tuesday stakes were all won by former Parx champion jockeys, each of whom took advantage of in-race circumstances to get to the wire first.

Jakarta was 18-1 in the Mrs. Claus for fillies and mares going 7 furlongs. Her published lines were all on grass, except for her most recent start on Tapeta at Turfway Park. She had not won a race all year.

The 6-year-old mare was 8-for-26 lifetime, but she was 5-for-8 on fast dirt tracks. And this was a fast dirt track. Just as she did at Penn National in 2019 when she had four wins, two seconds and a third in nine starts, Jakarta came out running from her inside post and never stopped, winning by 3 lengths in the end.

“She broke so good, I put my hands down and she was awesome,’’ said jockey Mychel Sanchez. “I felt like I was just galloping.’’

The jockey was very confident because he had gone back on Jakarta’s form and saw she “was destroying those fields on dirt.’’

Making her Parx debut after racing in Kentucky, Florida, New York and Canada for Three Diamonds Farm during the year, Jakarta won by a comfortable 3 lengths in her first start for trainer Michael Trombetta.

Kendrick Carmouche, finishing off the best year of his career  between New York and Parx, rode the final three Parx cards of the year. He gave a classic KC ride  in The Kris Kringle for 3-year-olds and up going a mile and 70 yards. With 3-1 Rock on Luke and 5-2 favorite Davidic Line engaged in a long battle for the lead, Carmouche, riding 3-1 Why Why Paul Why, sat just off those leaders.

When the jockey gave the signal, Why Why Paul Why was there for him and raced away to win by 2 1/4 lengths for trainer Penny Pearce and owner JKX Racing. Davidic Line held on for second.

“They had a very tough pace in here,’’ Carmouche said. “I thought they would go pretty quick up front. The two horses up front hooked up. I just sat the trip and when I was ready to go, the horse did most of the work and I just had to guide him, keep him clear.’’

The first two finishers had been claimed earlier in the year at Churchill Downs. Davidic Line had improved dramatically for trainer Jamie Ness, winning twice in two starts at Parx.  Why Why Paul Why now has five wins and a second at Parx.

Trainer John Servis thought so much of Dreams Untold last year that he was thinking of running the son of Smarty Jones in the Preakness. That did not work out, but the now 4-year-old showed his talent in The Blitzen for 3-year-olds and up going 6 furlongs. Positioned perfectly by Frankie Pennington in third behind dueling leaders, Dreams Untold, owned by Pat Chapman’s Someday Farm and sent off at 5-1, exploded on the turn and cruised home by 3 3/4 lengths.

“John Servis really got him ready for this race,’’ Pennington said. “John told me `sit in a good spot and he’ll give you everything.’ Sure enough, he was right.’’

Pennington was thrilled to win but especially so for Pat Chapman.

“She’s the sweetest lady you will ever meet in horse racing,’’ the jockey said. “You’ve got to love her.’’

The 2-year-olds took center stage Wednesday with The Parx Futurity for fillies and The Parx Juvenile for colts and geldings.

Trainer Butch Reid added to his career year when 5-2 Stand Up Comic remained perfect in three main track starts by running away from the field in the Futurity to win by 4 lengths. Frankie Pennington gave her a dream trip over the 7 furlongs for Chuck Zacney’s Cash Is King and Glenn Bennett’s LC Racing.

The filly, a half sister to the stable’s solid runner Dr B, was purchased privately and appears to have a very good future.

“I went down (to Florida) last spring and we were able to strike a deal,’’ Reid said.

Stand Up Comic had not raced in nearly two months. That she was pulling away at the finish gave Reid the confidence that more distance will not be a problem.

The final of the five stakes went to 3-1 Dance Code who wired the field in the 7-furlong Juvenile for trainer Juan Vazquez and owner Richies World Stables LLC. The son of Honor Code was ridden expertly by Nik Juarez.

After breaking his maiden in a June debut at Parx, Vazquez immediately sent the colt to Saratoga to run in the Sanford and Saratoga Special. That didn’t work out very well, but it was a strong indicator the trainer thought he had something special.

Vazquez was between Saturday’s Jerome at Aqueduct and the Juvenile for Dance Code

“I waited until almost 11:15,’’ he said with a smile. “I was supposed to go to The Jerome. I don’t want to scratch at Philly. Philly is my house. I like him a lot. I made the right decision.’’

Yes, he did.


Got my 2021 Eclipse Awards ballot the other day and, as I began to pour over the past performances of the horses and humans in various categories, I began to marvel at what a great year it was on the track. If that was the only story…

Let’s start at the end. Knicks Go is going to be the Horse of the Year after winning the Pegasus, Whitney, Breeders Cup Classic and $7.3 million. That the 5-year-old held his form from January to November is a rarity these days.

Speaking of holding form all year, how about Medina Spirit and Essential Quality? The most difficult category for me and I suspect most other voters will be the 3-year-old male champion. Almost impossible to separate the two colts. Essential Quality raced from February to November and never failed to fire, his two biggest wins being the Belmont Stakes and Travers. Medina Spirit stayed in form from January to November, his biggest win being the biggest race we have, the Kentucky Derby.

I think Essential Quality has a slightly better resume in terms of races won. I think Medina Spirit’s resume would look much better if he did not have to run against then stablemate Life is Good twice. (By the way, I think Life is Good is better than both of them, but, because of injury and time away, he just does not have the resume.) The tiebreaker for me is going to be that the two colts ran against each other twice in the biggest race for 3-year-olds and “the’’ championship race, the BC Classic. Medina Spirit finished in front of Essential Quality both times. I am not considering the betamethasone positive for Medina Spirit in the Derby because it has not been adjudicated and I don’t think it had anything to do with him winning anyway.

Corniche and Echo Zulu are easy choices as 2-year-old colt and 2-year-old filly champions respectively. Malathaat is a no-brainer as the 3-year-old filly champion.

Knicks Go and Letruska (a 2021 record four Grade I wins) are locks as older male and female respectively.

Even though Jackie’s Warrior’s only bad sprint race was in the biggest race (BC Sprint), I still like him as the sprint champ based on overall resume. Ce Ce upset Gamine in the BC Filly & Mare Sprint and should be the female sprint champion.

I found the resumes of the male grass horses underwhelming, but likely will vote for Domestic Spending. War Like Goddess was an easy choice for the female turf champion.

Hard to believe Joel Rosario has never won the Eclipse Award as champion jockey. That should change. He has nearly $33 million in earnings and had a real chance to break Jerry Bailey’s record for graded stakes wins in a year until a recent injury paused him at 49 graded stakes wins in 2021.

Despite missing the entire Saratoga meet and the final month and change of the Belmont Spring meet after being injured on Belmont Stakes Day, Parx legend Kendrick Carmouche has more than $9 million in earnings, closing on the best earnings year of his career.

Hard to separate Brad Cox and Steve Asmussen for Trainer of the Year. Each is over $30 million in earnings. With Essential Quality and Knicks Go, Cox obviously had the higher quality talent, but Asmussen is going to win close to 500 races and had an incredible Saratoga meeting. Slightest of edges to Asmussen.

Jamie Ness, who will win the Parx training title for the second consecutive year, is third nationally in wins (298 through Dec. 17) and 12th in earnings (nearly $8 million).

Special achievement award to the incredible trainer Charlie Appleby who had 18 starters in North America in 2021 and won with nine of them, including eight Grade I Stakes and three BC winners (Modern Games, Space Blues, Yibir). His nine winners earned almost $6 million.

It helped, of course, that he was training for Godolphin which dominated in North America, Europe, and Dubai. In addition to all those grass winners, Godolphin also had Essential Quality, Maxfield, and Mystic Guide on the main track. They had 11 Grade I wins. That outfit will certainly be named leading owner and breeder for 2021.

Joe Besecker, who runs horses at Parx regularly, is in a battle for the second-leading owner in terms of wins. He has 114 wins with a few days left in the year. Jagger, Inc, easily the leading owner at Parx, is No. 6 nationally with 82 wins.

One fun category that is not an Eclipse category is the horse with the most wins. Shinny (12), Greeley and Ben (11) and Free to Fly (10) had a combined 33 wins in 43 starts. The wonderful Chub Wagon, representing Parx, had the best overall record with 8 wins and 1 second in 9 starts.


By Dick Jerardi

When it was announced on Friday, Dec. 3 by Bob Baffert’s attorney Craig Robertson that Dr. George Maylin, the director of the New York Drug Testing and Research Program, had determined that the anti-inflammatory betamethasone present in Medina Spirit’s split urine sample from the Kentucky Derby came from the topical ointment OTOMAX and not an injection, there was a fleeting thought that this could actually have a feel better, if not, feel-good ending.

Then, right after a workout at Santa Anita on Monday, Dec. 6, Medina Spirit, who finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, collapsed on the track and died.

All of which led to wild internet speculation, due process, and the facts be damned. Everybody thinks they know, but the reality is nobody really knows much of anything.

What hit me the most was we would never get to see Medina Spirit run again. Purchased for just $35,000 as a 2-year-old, Medina Spirit started 10 times, with five wins, four seconds, a third, and earnings of $3,545,200. This was one tough, consistent, overachieving racehorse.

In addition to the Derby, Medina won the Robert Lewis, Shared Belief and Awesome Again. The horse was second in the Sham, San Felipe, Santa Anita Derby, and Breeders’ Cup Classic. His “worst’’ finish was a third in the Preakness.

Each of Medina Spirit’s four-stakes wins came when he was loose on the lead and controlled the pace. There was nothing at all atypical about his Derby win in relation to his other wins.

The betamethasone, which was originally detected in a post-race sample and made public by Medina Spirit’s trainer Bob Baffert a week after the Derby, did not make Medina Spirit run faster. But, because Baffert had had a series of recent positive drug tests (all for therapeutic medications that are legal to use in training, but not on race day), it made the positive test “look’’ really bad. That, of course, is on Baffert and his team since it is right on the OTOMAX label that betamethasone is one of the ingredients. How that absurd mistake could have been made has never been explained.

The Kentucky Racing Commission has neither announced a positive test for Medina Spirit nor scheduled a hearing on the matter. If there is ever actually a proceeding and Maylin’s findings are accepted, my guess is Medina Spirit still will be disqualified from the Derby because of the presence of the betamethasone. Not sure how they can get around that regardless of how the drug got there. The arguments, however, will be fascinating. Robertson, for instance, is already saying that because it did not come from an injection, it did not break the rules and there should be no DQ. The commission may not see it that way.

At the very least, again if Maylin’s findings are accepted, Baffert may be able to regain some of his lost reputations from those who are willing to accept that it was a mistake and not intentional. Many will not be able to go there and I get that. Just too much smoke for there not to be a fire is an understandable reaction.  The results of a necropsy hopefully will be the definitive word on how Medina Spirit died. Sadly, that will not change the fact that a really cool horse, who was being readied for a 4-year-old campaign that was to include a run at the $20 million Saudi Cup, has run his last race. And, regardless of all the conspiracy theories surrounding the horse, his trainer, and what may have contributed to the death, that awful ending to the horse’s career and life is one fact not in dispute.


 By Dick Jerardi

Saturday at Gulfstream Park, Tuesday at Parx Racing: it was quite a few days for a Parx Hall of Fame trainer and a Pennsylvania racing Hall of Fame family.

Scott Lake has no idea how many horses he has claimed in his career. Has to be in the thousands. He does know Sweet Willemina has to be right near the top of his list.

“When you run a horse eight times and win seven, she’s got to be on your favorite list,’’ Lake said.

When he reached in to claim the 4-year-old filly for $32,000 on June 17 at Churchill Downs, he said to himself: “we’re overpaying by about $7,000 and we’re coming to Parx and you’re going to win me a two life starter for ($16,000), three life starter for ($16,000), have a shot at the four life starter for ($25,000) and maybe an a other than at Penn, Delaware, maybe if you catch a soft spot at Parx.’’

Well, Sweet Willemina blew right through all those conditions and Lake perfectly recited what she has done since coming to Parx after the claim which “was way more than we ever dreamed.’’

She won three races at Parx and one at Delaware Park. She won the $100,000 Salvatore DeBunda PTHA President’s Cup at Parx and then “got beat on an overconfident ride’’ before winning the Dec. 4 Glass Slipper on Claiming Crown Day at Gulfstream Park with a perfect ride from Silvestre Gonzalez.

Sweet Willemina really looked like she was in trouble on the far turn at Gulfstream. Lake thought it was a good thing because of what he saw on replays before he claimed her.

“One thing I loved about her, she got into trouble in like five out of seven races and then she kept coming at them again like she thrived on it,’’ Lake said.

At the quarter pole in the Glass Slipper when Sweet Willemina was kind of stuck in traffic, Lake’s finance said “oh, no’’ and Lake said “oh yeah.’’

Sweet Willemina got away from the traffic, split horses late and got there just in time to win by a head.  The filly has won slightly more than $200,000 since the claim for Lake’s Home Team Stable and Rich Ciavardone.

“(This win) ranks pretty high,’’ said Lake about win No. 6,225 in his amazing career. “I haven’t run in the Claiming Crown since it left Canterbury Park. The purses were so good everywhere else there was no reason to ship that far. To go back to the Claiming Crown with one horse that ended up jumping up and winning it, having all the people we had there…It was pretty special.’’

Lake gives Ciavardone major credit for the stakes win at Parx and the Claiming Crown. He said he: “would not have won the stakes because he would not have nominated her and I wouldn’t have taken her to the Claiming Crown because the $12,500 starter went here a couple of days before we were leaving. I would have ran her here.’’

The Claiming Crown is special for Lake because he is a claiming trainer.

“You’re honoring the horses that are the backbone of the sport, ’’ Lake said. “Seventy percent of the races that are run are claiming races. The Claiming Crown gives those owners an opportunity on a big day to see what it feels like.’’

Tuesday afternoon at Parx, the $200,000 Pa. Nursery, the race that Smarty Jones won in 2003, produced a dazzling winner named Witty for owner/breeder Lizzie Merryman, her son, trainer McLane Hendriks and jockey Carol Cedeno. It was the biggest purse Merryman has ever won and the first win for her son as a trainer.

Merryman laughed when she said she “bred them both,’’ horse and trainer.

The horse and trainer will be winning some more together, those Pa. Bred stakes in 2022 looking very appetizing for a soon-to-be 3-year-old.

“It’s so fun when you raise them from Day One and they just turn out like that,’’ said Merryman, whose farm has a Coatesville address. “It’s such a dream come true. It’s amazing.’’

That her son has taken over the training for her made it even more special.

“What a way to break your maiden,’’ Merryman said. “He’s doing such a great job. He so deserves this. He lives and breathes this horse every minute. I’m so proud of him and the horse.’’

Witty is a half brother to Caravel, the turf sprint specialist that Merryman trained and owned until she sold a piece to Bobby Flay this summer.

“It’s a very special win because obviously, my mom raised him as a foal,’’ Hendriks said. “Just a family connection and delighted to see how impressive a horse he was from the day we put tack on him. Everything he does just keeps impressing us.’’  Witty sat in mid-pack behind some very fast horses, but when Cedeno asked the horse to move up on the turn of the 7-furlong race, he got to the top quickly and ran away from the field in the stretch, winning by 5 1/2 lengths. It may not have been Smarty by 15 lengths, but it was quite impressive visually as if there is much more where that came from. 


By Dick Jerardi

So what do you do for an encore after training the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old filly in 2020? Just have the best year of your career.

With just a month to go in 2021, Butch Reid needs a bit more than $100,000 in earnings to surpass 2011 when his stable earned $2,275,592.

“I’d be very disappointed if we don’t surpass that,’’ Reid said.

Reid thinks Morning Macha will be favored in a $500,000 New York Stallion race to be run at Aqueduct. Eloquist runs in the Remsen at Aqueduct.

Beren has been the stable star this year, but the 3-year-old Pennsylvania bred is far from the only stakes-caliber horse in the barn. The brilliantly fast 2-year-old filly Disco Ebo just won the $200,000 Shamrock Rose at Penn National. And she is just the latest in the barn from that same family. Reid has three other full sisters or brothers in training. And has trained eight of them altogether.

“She’s pretty good,’’ he said. “I’ve had this whole family.’’

 By Weigelia out of  Katarica Disco, Disco Ebo, who was purchased as a yearling for $52,000 by Chuck Zacney’s Cash is King and Glenn Bennett’s LC Racing, will be pointed for the Parx Futurity, one of the five newly announced $100,000 Parx stakes to be run Dec. 28 and 29. Reid thinks he will have horses in four and possibly five of the stakes. Disco Ebo’s full brothers and sisters include Smooth B, Fat Kat, and Disco Rose.

 “We’ve had a ton of them and they’ve all been moneymakers,’’ Reid said.

 Reid thinks he has had around 20 horses by Weigelia. He has 22 horses in his stable at the moment with plans to take five of them to Florida while the rest remain at Parx.

 What has made his 2021, with 174 starters, 45 wins 39 seconds and 22 thirds, more amazing is that he had done it all without what he was certain was going to be the stable star – 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Vequist. After racing just once this year, she was not able to overcome several issues and never made it back to the races. She was sold for $3.4 million at the “Night of the Stars’’ sale.

“Imagine if (Vequist) was still going,’’ Reid said. “I lost my best horse and her little sister Mainstay. They were like the superstars at the beginning of the year. And they’re both on the farm.’’

So why all this success?

“It’s all about having the right owners, Chuck and Glenn and Tom McGrath,’’ Reid said, “They got to the sales, they’re enthusiastic and they do the right thing by their horses. We give them time. Coincidentally, I’ve got a lot of fast horses this year. I’ve never won this many races with 2-year-olds in my career. I’m over a dozen, I think. Talented young horses is the key.’’

That and a great help in the barn.

“I’m lucky enough to have fantastic help this year,’’ Reid said. “They’re really done a great job. The barn is enthusiastic. It’s good when it’s going good. It just seems to build on itself.’’

Reid and wife Ginny have been in a great partnership at the barn for decades. That they are enjoying such success now is a fitting reward for all that work for all those years. And, with all those 2-year-olds running so well, 2022 will start with the potential of even more success.


By Dick Jerardi

Andy Hernandez rode his first race on April 1 at Gulfstream Park. He rode race No. 130 last Wednesday at Parx. Hernandez does not ride like an inexperienced jockey. He looks good on a horse, makes smart decisions and rides with confidence.

His 130 mounts have yielded 11 wins, 11 seconds, and 17 thirds. After three rides at Gulfstream Park, he headed north to Delaware Park where he rode his first winner on August 8. He began to ride at Parx in late September. Now, he is a regular, his 7-pound apprentice allowance and obvious skill getting him live mounts with better chances to win. He models how he rides after Mike Smith.

“He’s very intelligent in the races,’’ Hernandez said.

He had no family in racing, but when he came to Florida from Cuba, he lived not that far from Gulfstream. He had a friend who was a trainer. He took him to the track where he started off as a hot walker. Eventually, he graduated to galloping and then to ride in races.

He won that first race on his 20th try. The second came after 14 more losing mounts. He won another right after that and then went 36 races between wins, not atypical for a young rider trying to find a niche. Now, the wins are coming much more frequently.

“I love it,’’ Hernandez said. “The moment inside the gate, that’s a beautiful moment.’’

Like any good jockey, he has a pre-race strategy but is ready to call an audible.

“I have one plan before the race,’’ Hernandez said. “When they open the gate, the race does change. You need a good plan at the moment; get a good position in the race.’’

When he is not at the track, Hernandez likes to fish.

“I love it, same as my agent, ’’ Hernandez said.

His agent is Jim Boulmetis who knows what a good rider looks like and could not wait to get Hernandez to Parx.

It’s still early in his career, but the results so far are quite positive.

Hernandez rode some quarter horses in Cuba, but that’s much “different than here, that’s no saddle, no track, nothing.’’

Hernandez has been in the United States for a bit less than five years. He could not speak English when he first arrived. Just as in the saddle, he has been a quick study with English.

There have been some wonderful apprentice jockeys who have come through Parx over the years and gone on to great careers. Is Andy Hernandez next? Time will tell.


By Dick Jerardi

Joe Besecker owned horses in partnerships for decades. The horses began to run just in his name at the start of the 21st Century. As we hit the 2010s, he began to implement a plan.

“It became with the advent of slots and increased purses a pretty nice business opportunity if you could exploit the inefficiencies that are constant in the racing game,’’ Besecker said. “So that was the big change, kind of the increase in the economics of the sport and you could deploy a business model over top of that.’’

Besecker, a Saint Joseph’s University graduate, was uniquely positioned to marry his love of horses with his understanding of business. As the founder, president, and CEO of Emerald Asset Management which is located in Lancaster, his business acumen was obvious. Apply some of those principles to racing horses and voila, you get sustained success.

“I love racing,’’ Besecker said. “I’m not afraid to bet a horse. It’s not about betting. Right now, you’re taking huge advantage of the reduced herd because the herd is down dramatically. You’re also taking advantage of the ability to run at different venues. There is a cost involved, but if you can overcome that cost, we do take a lot of state breds from out of state and bring them into the state.

“There are just a lot of inefficiencies that exist and if you can take advantage of some of those and go from a lower percentage trainer to a higher percentage trainer and move to a different state with the state-bred situation…There’s a lot of trainers that aren’t particularly good at the condition book. You can tell by where they run them. It doesn’t make sense.’’

Jeff Matty, also a St. Joe’s grad, manages Besecker’s racing operation.

“He’s critical,’’ Besecker said. “The business aspect of racing is chaos whether it be licensing and registration…There is no consistency on the financial side. Some places, you can’t wire, some places you can. In the registration process, some places still have old-fashioned papers. That takes a lot of effort. The more horses you have, the more effort that takes.’’

From 2014 to 2021, Besecker’s horses, racing mostly in the mid-Atlantic, but also, at times, with a string in California, have won 774 races and $16.5 million in purses. He’s had horses at Parx with trainer Carlos Guerrero. Right now, he has horses at Parx with trainers Scott Lake and Jamie Ness.

In 2019, he was the leading owner at so many meets it was hard to keep up. The stable won 199 races and nearly $5 million in purses. At his peak, Besecker had 130 horses racing with eight or nine trainers. But, by the end of the year, Besecker decided it was time to get out, concentrate on his business, charitable foundation, and family.

So, he held a dispersal sale that December at Timonium. A total of 95 horses brought $3 million. A week or two after the sale, he sold all but two of the rest of the horses; approximately 145 were sold in all.

He didn’t know then, but his timing was perfect. Three months later, racing was shut down in much of the country because of the pandemic. If Besecker still owned all those horses, it would have been an economic disaster.    

In 2020, he got back in just a touch, with 142 starters, 38 wins, and earnings of $1 million. In 2021, he got all the way back in with 408 starters, 103 winners, and stable earnings of $2.3 million. Besecker is back to owning 90 horses so he didn’t get out for long.

“It may be more,’’ Besecker said. “It’s hard for me to keep track of the mares and foals.’’

He won his 1,000th race on Aug. 14 at Del Mar as the great Trevor Denman brought Diva’s Finale across the finish line in style: “What a win for owner Joe Besecker, 1,000 wins as an owner.’’

Diva’s Finale’s trainer Doug O’Neill, who has Besecker’s horses in California, had a poignant video message: “Joe, you did it man. I’m sure when you won your first couple of races, you had no idea that you’d be winning a thousand of these. So, just all the men and women that you’ve employed along the way who have been able to work alongside all of your amazing horses, what an amazing achievement, hopefully, we can win another thousand. Knowing the way you are Joe, I know 2,000 is right around the corner.’’

Besecker’s best horse unquestionably was Aztec Sense, a horse he claimed for $12,5000 in 2017. In 2018, Aztec Sense went 8-for-8 and earned $408,540. Four of his wins were at Parx, including the Turning For Home Stakes, the Sal DeBunda PTHA President’s Cup, the Pa. Derby Champion Stakes, and a starter allowance. Aztec Sense was named Park Horse of the Year for 2018.

“That guy gave it to me every time,’’ Besecker said.

And the horse absolutely loved running at Parx.

“There is no doubt his favorite track is Parx,’’ Besecker said at the time.

Besecker sold around 60 of his horses late in 2020 and plans to do the same thing this December.

“It’s just like clearing out a portfolio,’’ he said.

And then he will be building it back up again. The record now is 4,778 starters, with 1,039 winners, 834 seconds, 648 thirds, and earnings of $20,456,284. The horses may change; the results do not.


By Dick Jerardi

Pennsylvania Derby Day on the last Saturday of September, Breeders’ Cup on the first weekend of November.

Privileged to have been there for both and can hardly wait until 2022 to do it all over again.

Got to Del Mar last Tuesday evening after my first flight in almost 20 months. The track’s lights were on with the darkened Pacific Ocean just to the other side of Highway 101. There can’t be many more glorious settings in sports than the Del Mar Turf Club where the turf actually does meet the surf.

The racing on Friday and Saturday perfectly fit the venue. Two races decided by the tiniest of noses. Six foreign-bred winners. Four winners based in Kentucky, three in New York, three in Europe, two in California and two in Japan, the country’s first BC win. Three wins for Godolphin, trainer Charlie Appleby and jockey William Buick, all by Dubawi, making that stallion the first to sire three BC winners in the same year. Gun Runner became the 10th Classic winner to sire a BC winner, Echo Zulu. Four of the world’s best jockeys _ Buick, the Ortiz Brothers, Irad and Jose, and Joel Rosario _ won 10 of the 14 BC races. And Knicks Go, finishing off a Horse of the Year campaign and the two days with a dominating, front-running win in the $6 million Classic.

Trainer Wesley Ward completely dominated the two turf sprints _ again. Twilight Gleaming wired the field in Friday’s Juvenile Turf Sprint and Golden Pal, seemingly 2 lengths in front two jumps out of the gate in Saturday’s Turf Sprint, became the fifth horse to win different BC events. Knicks Go later became the sixth.

Would not be shocked if trainer Steve Asmussen, who has won every big race there is to win except the biggest race of all, points the filly Echo Zulu to the Kentucky Derby next year. She was every bit as impressive in the Juvenile Fillies as the unbeaten colt Corniche was in the Juvenile. In fact, she ran the mile and a sixteenth in 1:42.24 while Corniche finished in 1:42.50.

Now, there is a question of what happens with Corniche, six months before the Derby. Normally, the colt would have earned 30 Derby points by now, but because trainer Bob Baffert is currently banned from running horses at Churchill Downs (when will the Medina Spirit hearing be scheduled and the positive test issue resolved?), Corniche has no Derby points and the owners may have to make a decision in 2022 to give the horse to another trainer if this does not get resolved in Baffert’s favor.

Nice to see Christophe Clement (was 0-for-41 in BC) finally get that first win when Pizza Bianca flew from last to first in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. (Keep an eye on Bubble Rock for the future. Hers was the greatest 12th place finish you will ever see. She was 5 lengths back and had 10 lengths worth of trouble).

As to the fiasco that was the Juvenile Turf, it was hard to understand the miscommunication between the vets at the gate and the stewards that resulted in the “scratch’’ of favored Modern Games. Harder to handle still was the resulting disaster for bettors who were locked into Modern Games in the double, pick 3, pick 4 or pick 5. When the horse ran for “purse money only,’’ by rule, they ended up with the post time favorite Dakota Gold who, if they had wanted to use him, they would have used him.

When Modern Games won and Dakota Gold finished fifth, the Modern Games multi-race bettors got nothing. How is that fair? In 2021, they really need to develop a software program to address that obviously rare issue. Even if the horse is running for “purse money only’’ and refunds need to be issued for in-race bets (win, place, show, exacta, etc.), there is no reason players that had multi-race wagers should not have been paid off if they had Modern Games.

The great Gamine was beaten in Saturday’s Filly & Mare Sprint when she got into a speed duel and the deserving Ce Ce, brilliantly trained by Michael McCarthy, was there to take advantage, jockey Victor Espinoza getting his first BC win since American Pharoah finished off his epic “Grand Slam’’ in the 2015 Classic.

How good was Life Is Good in the Dirt Mile? And wouldn’t it be cool, if as planned at the moment, Life Is Good and Knicks Go really hook up in the 2022 Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park? Think the fractions will be fast?

Loves Only You gave Japan its first BC win in the Filly & Mare Turf, followed two hours later by 49-1 shocker Marche Lorraine when, after favored Letruska was taken out by a pace meltdown  (21.84, 44.97), the Japanese bred and trained mare took the Distaff by an inch over Dunbar Road.

To me, the most shocking defeat was Jackie’s Warrior finishing sixth in the Sprint when Aloha West, who did not make his first start until Feb. 7, caught Dr. Schivel on the last jump. There is some evidence the rail was not the place to be on Saturday, but, other than that, Jackie’s race did not make much sense.

McCarthy did another fabulous job with Smooth Like Straight who nearly stole the Mile until the Appleby-trained Space Blues, sitting a perfect rail trip, came and got him in the stretch.

 Appleby did it again with Yibir in the Turf, the 3-year-old unleashing an almost impossible late run to blow by the field. It is hard to be certain from the video, but my estimate is that Yibir ran the final quarter mile in 22.50 seconds. That is sprinter speed at the end of a mile and a half grass race. Unreal.

Knicks Go did not need to run his last quarter that fast because the 5-year-old won the race in the first quarter when he cleared the field. Before coming to trainer Brad Cox last year, Knicks Go was 2-for-14, his 70-1 win in the 2018 Breeders’ Futurity and 40-1 second in the BC Juvenile looking like flukes.

All Knicks Go has done for Cox in eight two-turn races was go 8-for-8, winning by a combined 38 lengths. None of those wins were ever in doubt. Knicks Go will be the 2021 Horse of the Year.

I loved the Knicks Go-Hot Rod Charlie exacta and thought I had it until I didn’t. Perhaps, being on the rail hurt Charlie as he faded to fourth.

Medina Spirit outran Essential Quality for second and that will make for an interesting dilemma for Eclipse Award voters when they consider the 3-year-old championship.

Essential Quality won the Southwest, Blue Grass, Belmont Stakes, Jim Dandy and the Travers while finishing fourth in the Derby and third in the Classic. Medina Spirit won the Robert Lewis, Kentucky Derby, Shared Belief, and Awesome Again while finishing second in the Sham, San Felipe, Santa Anita Derby and Classic and third in the Preakness.

I think Essential Quality won the better overall quality of races, but Medina Spirit fans will rightly point out that Medina finished in front of Essential Quality in the only two races where they met. It will be a fascinating debate.

There will be no debate about the success of the 38th Breeders’ Cup. It was wonderful, as always. On to Keeneland 2022 next November.